Studios look to secure talent, greenlight pix

HOLLYWOOD — No fooling — April 1 is already looming as the drop-dead date to complete production on films next year and avoid a collision with possible strikes.

“It’s not a question of if there are going to be strikes,” one attorney declared. “It’s a question of what are you going to do about it.”

Producers are acting as if they fully expect two work stoppages — the Writers Guild of America on May 1 and the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists two months later.

What’s more, a belief that the unions will stay out for a significant period has gained momentum, notes Steve Reuther, chairman-CEO of Bel Air Entertainment.

Fear as reality

“When enough people are saying it, you start to believe it,” Reuther said.

So the beginning of April has emerged as an unofficial final wrap date in order to leave the following three months for myriad post-production tasks — editing, reshoots, dubbing, additional dialogue recording (ADR) by principals, foley, looping for ambient sound, scoring, color correction, dissolves, mixing, titles and closed captioning.

A few productions, such as Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” will probably still be shooting in April and May, but many actors will find their film work limited to ADR and looping during the spring.

“It really is going to be touch and go next year,” producer Mike Lobell (“Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Striptease”) said. “I could probably shoot as late as mid-May, but other people are more conservative than me, so they’re planning to stop earlier.”

Another producer warned, “If you don’t have your post work done by early July, you’ll be in really brutal territory.”

Need for speed

The lack of movement in SAG’s strike against advertisers, now in its fourth month, has convinced film producers that the time is now to get projects ready for production.

“The pressure has become very intense in the last few weeks,” admitted Steven Jay Rubin of indie Fast Carrier Pictures. “People are saying, ‘If I don’t shoot now, I may not be able to shoot until 2002.’ ”

Recent greenlit projects on the fast track include Revolution Studios’ “Animal” and “Puka Pete,” Miramax’s “Scary Movie II,” Daybreak Prods.’ “Raised by Ghosts,” Lions Gate’s “White Horses” and Neal Moritz’s teen spoof “Ten Things I Hate About Clueless Road Trips When I Can’t Hardly Wait to Be Kissed.” Columbia has ditched plans for a big-budget “SWAT” project and is instead trying to ready a $40 million version with young, affordable actors.

Material issue

As a result, studios are actively seeking to lock up talent and to greenlight projects. “You still have to have the right stuff at the right time, but there is certainly a lot more opportunity now,” Lobell said.

Producer Warren Zide agrees, noting that he and partner Craig Perry are actively looking for projects that could be shot before the strikes.

“A date means nothing if you don’t have a great screenplay, so we’re not trying to force things into production, but our development is much more focused,” said Zide, who already plans to complete “RepliKate” and sequels to “American Pie” and “Final Destination” before the strikes hit.

Half a dozen out-of-the-ordinary trends have emerged in recent weeks:

  • Writers are telling agents to double-book them on upcoming projects, figuring they’ll have plenty of time to rest after May 1.

  • For many, Feb. 1 has become the de facto absolute last day to start principal photography on a movie project.

  • There has been a boom in signings for work by actors below the A-list.

    “The studios usually think they can’t go ahead with something until they have a big star,” one agent noted, “but they may be willing to take someone more up-and-coming to get things going.”

  • More comedies have been put into active development because such projects require less time to complete.

  • Movies requiring outdoor shoots may be shifted forward. “If it’s a good-weather movie, you will probably want to shoot it this fall instead of waiting until next year,” Rubin observed.

  • Production will boom in early 2001. “People are going to be going 24/7 without breaks because they’ll be worried there could be a strike that lasts a long time, God forbid,” Zide said.

Reuther was able to point out an upside to the current scrambling.

“In a way, it’s been a blessing because (actors) are more willing to commit and come out of their shell,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Oh my God, what if this thing hits and I can’t get work?’

“In another sense, it’s also a curse, because people are tense.”

(Carl DiOrio and Dade Hayes contributed to this report.)

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